Southern Baptist Convention lost over 1,200 churches in 2022, data shows

Messengers hold up ballot cards as they vote during the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, held June 11-14, 2023.
Messengers hold up ballot cards as they vote during the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, held June 11-14, 2023. | Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention, the United States' largest Protestant denomination, lost more than 1,200 member churches in 2022, according to a recent data analysis from LifeWay Research.

According to the analysis of the SBC's 2022 Annual Church Profile published Tuesday, Lifeway found that, from 2021 to 2022, 1,253 congregations were no longer part of the SBC.

Of the 50,423 active congregations of the SBC in 2021, 2% were shuttered, while 0.5% either left or were disaffiliated from the convention by the time data for 2022 was compiled.

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The 2022 losses were an increase from the previous two years, noted Lifeway Research, as 2021 saw a loss of 1,003 congregations to closure and dismissal, while 2020 saw a loss of 1,002.

"Every week, the national network of Southern Baptist congregations changes," Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said in a statement.

"Once each year, we take a snapshot of the current Southern Baptist congregations to report national statistics. Later, analysis between annual lists of congregations reveals more details of these constant changes."

In May 2023, Lifeway, the research division of the SBC, released a report finding that the SBC experienced a decline of approximately 457,000 people, making it the largest membership drop in a century.

According to the 2023 report, total SBC membership went from approximately 13.68 million members in 2021 to 13.22 million members in 2022. The report added that the "457,371 members lost is the largest single-year numerical drop in more than 100 years."

Although the report from last year said that the SBC lost 416 member congregations as opposed to 1,253, this was because the report included churches that opened during the year, which offset the number of congregations that were closed or dismissed.

In a statement at the time, McConnell attributed the decline in membership in part to updates to membership records by SBC-affiliated congregations.

"Much of the downward movement we are seeing in membership reflects people who stopped participating in an individual congregation years ago and the record keeping is finally catching up," he said.

"Membership totals for a congregation immediately reflect additions as well as subtractions due to death or someone removing themselves from membership. But many congregations are slow to remove others who no longer are participating."

The reported SBC membership is still well above the approximately 7 million reported in 1950, although it is a few million below the peak of about 16.3 million people reported in 2006.

Dwindling congregation numbers are not unique to the SBC; many Mainline Protestant denominations have membership sizes that are a fraction of what they were decades ago. 

The Presbyterian Church (USA) reported losing over 100 congregations and 53,000 members in 2022. The United Church of Christ declined by over 286,000 members and lost over 500 churches from 2012 to 2022. 

Previous Lifeway Research analysis found approximately 4,500 Protestant churches were closed in the U.S. in 2019 while only around 3,000 were started.

Recent Gallup polling suggests that church attendance has declined among nearly all religious groups, as just three in 10 U.S. adults attend religious services regularly.

Forty-three percent of Protestants surveyed say they "seldom" or "never" attend church, while half (50%) of Catholics said the same. 

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